By Annie Parker
It was no coincidence
In 1965, when I was just 14 years old, I lost my mother to breast cancer. Twelve years later, my sister and first cousin succumbed to the same disease. The doctors told me that my family had a “bit of bad luck.” I did not believe them. I innately believed that there was a hereditary link to the cancer in my family and I knew that one day I would get cancer, too.
In 1980, at the age of 29 (like the other women in my family), I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a mastectomy and went on to live my life. In 1988, at the age of 37, cancer struck again. This time it was stage III ovarian cancer. My first cancer diagnosis was difficult; this diagnosis was devastating, since it included surgery and debilitating chemotherapy. More than ever, I was convinced there was a genetic reason for all the cancer in my family. I felt it in my bones.
One of the first to be tested for BRCA
In 1994, after the discovery of the BRCA gene, I was offered genetic counseling and testing. I jumped at the chance as I had something to prove. From deep down in my soul, I knew there was a genetic reason for my cancers. Living in Toronto, I was one of the first women in Canada to test for a BRCA genetic mutation. When I tested positive, I felt tremendous relief. My thoughts were true – there was a genetic reason for all the cancer in my family; it was not just bad luck.
It may sound silly, but it was an overwhelming moment. In one quick second, I knew that I would receive support from the medical community to help members of my family and myself avoid further cancer diagnoses. We did not have a family curse. There was a reason for our cancer and there were things we could do to reduce our risks going forward. I felt a huge sense of relief.
Things don’t always go as planned. In 2006, when I was 54, cancer struck a third time. This time it was an unknown primary behind my liver. If I could do it twice, I could do it one more time. And I did. Today, I am cancer free.
Knowledge is power!
It is so important to become educated and find the support of others who have undergone similar experiences. FORCE helped me in this way. FORCE is committed to improving the lives of people with hereditary cancer and their families. They believe that “knowledge is power” and they go the extra mile to share information and provide support. Being a part of FORCE has not only enriched my life, but transformed it, too. I have formed life-long relationships with their wonderful staff and volunteers and now I feel as if I belong somewhere.
In sharing my story, I want to give hope to others. HOPE is a small four-letter word with so much power. It is my hope that together we all continue this upward path of sharing information and supporting one another. The uncertainty, fear, anxiety, anger and helplessness that I once felt has been replaced with feelings of empowerment, calmness and hope.